(CNSNews.com) - Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain on Tuesday accused the Bush administration of creating the impression that the war in Iraq would be "some kind of day at the beach." But transcripts of Bush's speeches from March 2003 show that Bush tried to distance himself from analysts who said the campaign would be easy.
During a campaign stop for Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), McCain said, "One of the biggest mistakes we made was underestimating the size of the task and the sacrifices that would be required," according to the Associated Press.
But in his address to the nation on March 19, 2003 - as American fighters began dropping bombs on Baghdad - Bush said the bombings were the "opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign."
The conflict "could be longer and more difficult than some predicted," Bush explained, due to the harsh terrain and unpredictable fighting methods of the enemy. He added that "helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment."
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said McCain, a likely candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2008, is trying to distance himself from the president to appeal to so-called moderate voters.
"He's practicing that high wire act that all Republicans in 2008 are probably going to have to endure," Sabato said. "He's going to have to be pro-Bush enough to satisfy GOP activists who vote in primaries and caucuses, and yet he has to be enough of a change to get elected in November."
Sabato joked that McCain "was against President Bush before he was for him," a reference to Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) statement during the 2004 presidential campaign that he was "for the $87 billion before I was against it."
Sabato predicted that "in the next two weeks, minimum, he (McCain) will say some very positive things about President Bush and his Iraq policy."
Sabato said he also felt President Bush sugar coated assessments of the situation in Iraq early in the conflict, making it seem as though the mission would be easier than it has been.
"There was some of that," Sabato said. "I think that was part of the encouragement to go in, that 'we can mop this up pretty quickly, it'll take a few months.'"
"In fact, I remember them cautioning people who expected this to be lightning quick as in 1991. 'No, instead of a few days, it's going to take a few months,'" Sabato claimed. "Well, it turns out it's a few years, or maybe more than a few years."
In his March 22 radio address, Bush repeated his belief that "a campaign on harsh terrain in a vast country could be longer and more difficult than some have predicted."
In a March 23 press conference, Bush said it was "going to take a while to achieve our objective," that "we're slowly, but surely, achieving our objective" and that "it's important for the American people to realize that this war has just begun, that ... we're just in the beginning phases."
In his now infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech on May 1, 2003, Bush said the operation "was carried out with a combination of precision and speed and boldness the enemy did not expect, and the world has not seen before."
While much of Bush's speech was celebratory, he also noted that "we have difficult work to do in Iraq. We're bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous."
"The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth the effort," Bush said. "Our coalition will stay until our work is done."
A spokesman for Sen. McCain did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
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